The University of Tasmania is slashing hundreds of the degrees and courses it offers, as it struggles with financial challenges – including an “over-reliance on China” for students, which has been hit hard by coronavirus travel restrictions.
In a letter to staff on Tuesday, Vice Chancellor Rufus Black told employees UTAS was “facing sustained headwinds to being long-term sustainable” and the number of courses was to be reduced from about 514 to 120 by 2021.
Professor Black said the start of 2020 had demonstrated the university had an “over-reliance” on students from China, which, coupled with the emergence of coronavirus, would have “long-lasting consequences”.
“The combination of these forces is proving to be a very strong headwind,” Professor Black said, adding the university was “not making enough progress to be the right size to be sustainable even in the short term”.
“The year sees us start a long way behind our budget and with more financial challenges to come.”
UTAS said it would need fewer employees and would aim to reduce staffing levels through “natural turnover and redeployment”, but has not said how many jobs will be cut.
“We have thought a lot about the timing of doing this work with the coronavirus situation evolving,” Professor Black said.
“We know we face significant financial challenges today and into next year. By getting going now, we have the best chance to do this in a planned way, over an appropriate time.”
“We are fortunate that for us the pressures aren’t at a level requiring redundancies decided quickly and we have the time to do this well,” Professor Black said.
He said UTAS aims to reduce the “tangle of complexity” in its course offerings by culling the number of educational options being offered by about 75 per cent.
The current course structure “makes for a picture that is truly bewildering, both for our students and our staff who have to work with it”, Professor Black said.
“This challenge is not news to us. We have been aware of it for years. Many of our people will have been involved in prior attempts to address it.
“For these reasons, it is important that our focus is not on how we arrived here; but on how we as a community intend to move on from here.”
Professor Black said UTAS would examine its 2021 course offerings in the coming months, so it can begin marketing them, adding the university would “simplify its website”.
Staff briefings on the changes will be held at campuses in Launceston, Burnie and Hobart later this week.
Reconsider move into cities, union says
Kelvin Michael from the National Tertiary Education Union said staff had been expecting a briefing on coronavirus and were shocked when it became clear the announcement was instead about UTAS’s plans.
He said staff will have been unsettled by the announcement, and he expected to be contacted by UTAS employees in coming days.
“A drop in income is obviously an issue to deal with, but there are other ways of dealing with short-term challenges to income,” Mr Michael said.
Mr Michael said UTAS could reconsider its planned moves into the CBD areas of Hobart and Launceston.
“I think the university will need to look at its finances and think about whether some of these property holdings could be turned back into realisable assets and used to assist in the short-term funding shortfall,” he said.